Health reform means millions more will be covered and more illness will be prevented, federal health official says at UK

By Tara Kaprowy
Kentucky Health News

What will the healthvcare system look like in 2020? Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Howard Koh told a packed house in Lexington Monday that millions more people will have insurance, the patient will be at the center of a coordinated system, and there will be a great emphasis on prevention and public health “so the patient doesn’t become the patient in the first place.”

Koh talked about federal health-care reform during a panel discussion at the University of Kentucky’s Albert B. Chandler Hospital. It also included Dr. Steve Hester, senior vice president of Norton Healthcare; Dr. Richard Lofgren, vice president of health care operations and chief clinical officer at UK HealthCare; and Stephen Wyatt, dean of UK’s College of Public Health.
Koh said the current health-care system “is fragmented, it’s episodic, it’s not as coordinated as we would like, and there is still not enough attention to quality outcomes.” But he said implementation of key parts of the health-care law would address those issues.
He said insurance is already more accessible, since companies can no longer refuse children with pre-existing conditions. By 2014, the same will be the case for adults. State insurance exchanges, which he called “a one-stop shop where buyers can compare plans,” will inject “transparency in the whole market” and will ensure basic levels of coverage.
Insurance will also become more affordable, he said. The Medicare prescription “donut hole” is being covered; young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until the age of 26; insurance companies must assure that 80 percent of their expenses go toward medical care and not overhead; and there will be a rate-review process, in which insurance companies wanting to increase their rates by 10 percent or more must formally defend their request.
Patient-centered medical homes will put the patient at the center of care and accountable care organizations, and “voluntary networks who have agreed to care for a defined Medicare population and also share in savings,” will make coverage more coordinated, Koh said.
The law also puts systems in place for prevention and public health. On the individual level, new plans must cover “high-value preventive services and screenings,” Koh said. Businesses are being encouraged to focus on wellness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are offering community transformation grants so communities “can designs ways to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” he said. And a national prevention counsel has been formed dedicated to public health.
The law also provides millions for health-care technology, which Hester said will revolutionize the health-care landscape and “the way we respond to patients.” Koh agreed, saying a paper-based system “was another example of fragmentation. . . . prevSometimes you could find the chart, sometimes you couldn’t. The electronic-based system will coordinate.”
Hester said patients have recently become more equipped to accept the technology of electronic health records because they’ve become used to devices like smart phones. Logren said that, traditionally, patient records have been “proprietary.” Electronic records will get information moving from place to place and will no longer be “owned.”
Koh acknowledged one of the greatest challenges of the health-reform law is sustainability, but by 2020, he said “We will see stable funding and stable results” in public health and prevention. While the law has created divisiveness in the political arena, Koh said strong opinions about health care are a good thing because they generate discussion and passion. “We can debate many parts of the health reform law,” he said, “but in the meantime, we are making progress.”
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